Predestination Debates in the Prison

This week out at the prison we started a study of Ephesians. 

In the first chapter of Ephesians Paul describes how we've been predestined in Christ. For example:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Eph. 1.3-6) 
God chose us "before the creation of the world" and "predestined us for adoption." These references to predestination, as they often do, kicked off a debate in the class about predestination, free will, and the view described as "once saved always saved." I expect many of you are intimately familiar with these perennial debates. 

The guys asked me for my opinion. 

The first thing to note, I said, is that these references to predestination are qualified by Jesus Christ. God choses us "in him" before the creation of the world. God predestined us for adoption "through Jesus Christ." Jesus Christ is the one being planned for and destined, not us. Our destiny only becomes real when we step into the story of God where Christ's destiny becomes our destiny

The other thing I shared is that all these references to predestination and plans laid before the creation of the world aren't about "once saved always saved." These references have to do with the inclusion of the Gentiles described in Ephesians 2.11-3.13. Specifically, Paul's gospel was being criticized for being an innovation, a novelty. Critics of Paul were arguing that there was an ancient plan, set forth in the Torah, regarding how to access the promises of God and join the covenantal family. You had to get circumcised and become a Torah-observant Jew. But now Paul was preaching this "new way" of becoming a child of Abraham. Paul's gospel was making God look like a poor planner, making stuff up on the fly. Critics could ask Paul, "If this is God's plan, why haven't we heard about it before?"

Paul's response in Ephesians is that the inclusion of the Gentiles was always the plan. This plan was set into motion "before the creation of the world." The inclusion of the Gentiles was "predestined." This, I told the men, is the issue Paul is dealing with. He's not talking about free will or "once saved always saved," he's talking about the inclusion of the Gentiles and fending off arguments that his gospel is an innovation.

I ended our discussion by giving the men this analogy. Paul's gospel concerning the inclusion of the Gentiles "by faith" made it look like God was getting to the line of scrimmage in a football game and calling an audible, changing the play that that been called in the huddle. Paul's argument is that, no, the inclusion of the Gentiles is not an audible, this was the original play drawn up way back in training camp. God isn't changing the play at the last minute, this was always the game plan.

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